Last summer, Congress passed a law reducing the number of executive-branch positions that require Senate confirmation. One hundred and sixty-six offices would now be able to be filled without endless hearings, anonymous "holds," and everything else that slows down the process of getting people to do the work of government. So, did that streamline hiring and make the executive branch more nimble? Hardly. The problem is that there are still an incredible 1,200 positions that have to go through the "advise and consent" process.
We all agree that it's a good idea for the Senate to exercise its oversight when it comes to lifetime judicial appointments and high-ranking positions like cabinet secretaries. But are there really 1,200 people working in the executive branch from whom we couldn't be safe unless they had a confirmation hearing?
And the problem now isn't the people working in the far corners of the Commerce or Agriculture departments, it's the jobs sitting unfilled. As The New York Times reported today, "As the White House races this week to plug holes in the cabinet, the lights remain off in essential offices across the administration. The vacancies, attributed to partisan politics and lengthy White House vetting, are slowing policy making in a capital already known for inaction, and embarrassing a president who has had more than five months since his re-election to fill many of the jobs."
Is Republican obstructionism the problem? The answer is, "Yes, but …" It's certainly true that in appointments, as in virtually every other area of governing, the GOP has done all it can to make Barack Obama's life as difficult as possible. But the second half of the story is that the administration, in an effort to insulate itself from scandal, has undertaken such extraordinarily careful vetting of every candidate that the process has slowed to a crawl. As frequent Prospect contributor Jonathan Bernstein wrote today, "That's bad for any administration, but it's especially bad for a would-be activist presidency."
The administration has certainly succeeded in avoiding scandal, from its appointments or any other source. Considering how eager Republicans are to take them down, that's a significant achievement. But are they paying a price for their caution in opportunities missed and initiatives that never get off the ground? We may never know for sure.
So They Say
"Earlier today I saved a few school children from a spider #nobigdeal #toughdayattheoffice."
—Chris Christie, tweeting, being governor, no big deal
Daily Meme: Party Like It's 2016
- Joe Biden is planning a new rogue gun-control push, per Politico, and the most important question, obviously, is not what this means for background checks. The important question is WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR 2016?
- "From the South Carolina Lowcountry to the Iowa heartland, there are no signs—one yet, at least—of a 'Draft Joe' movement. 'There just isn’t,' said Sue Dvorsky, a former head of the Iowa Democratic Party." Which must mean something, since the election is a perilously close three years away.
- As PBS puts it, "The Calendar Says 2013, but It Feels Like 2016."
- Andrew Cuomo is shopping a memoir too, which could mean something for 2016. The fact he says he doesn't care about commenting on 2016 could also mean he is thinking about 2016.
- Martin O'Malley has been repealing the death penalty and praising Obama on guns and saying he's not going to talk about 2016. Will this help or hurt him in Iowa?
- Hillary Clinton's husband and daughter have been saying that she is doing great after her blood-clot scare. "Bill's and Chelsea's reassurances are surely hints of a 2016 presidential bid."
- Nancy Pelosi is also praying for Hillary to be president. Interpret that however you want.
- Speculation is also rife in the Grand Old Party, what with Marco Rubio's make-or-break immigration-reform moment.
- Also, while we're at it, why not take it one step further? What will happen to his Senate seat if he runs in the Republican primary? So many questions, so little time!
- And what about Ted Cruz? Will he ruin everything for Rubio? Is he even running?
- The very professional pro-Sarah Palin 2016 website is speculating feverishly every waking fundraiser.
- As for Jeb Bush, his mom hopes he doesn't run. "We've had enough Bushes."
- Today, C-SPAN launched their Road to the White House 2016 series, so however thin the gossip on the campaign front, there's no escaping it now.
What We're Writing
- Since the rise of talk radio, Republican pundits and politicians have been feeding the fires of violent, paranoid, far-right fantasy. Paul Waldman wonders what would happen if people on the left started talking about violent revolution and calls for conservatives to cut that crap out.
- There was a time when rock criticism went from unworthy of mention to the voice of a community and of a generation.Tom Carson remembers when the Village was still the Village, when liberals were really liberal, and when music critics were gods among men.
What We're Reading
- It turns out that we've passed most of Europe in being a producer of idle, unemployed, and soon-to-be-unemployable young people.
- The reason for that continued unemployment in light of our recent, positive jobs report? College grads have garnered nearly all of the job gains, while those young people without college degrees have been losing jobs, even during the recovery.
- Although The New Yorker thinks that even the slow growth we have achieved might fall to half by later this year.
- Conservatives, hip to where their attention should be focused, are planning a thousand-man march across the bridge from Virginia to D.C. wearing (in D.C., illegal) loaded rifles over their shoulders. Let's hope their "nonviolent" protest gets the same kind of attention as Occupy.
- Speaking of the overuse of force, a number of worried individuals have banded together to found the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Kind of says it all, really.
- Striking a blow for intolerance that's out of step with the teachings at the heart of Catholicism, with the feelings of American Catholics, and with the nuns that everyone loves more than the Vatican or the American hierarchy, the bishop of Rhode Island says to boycott gay marriages.